The New Zidonians | Where everything was reversible and everything was temporary

While Barack Obama seeks Palestine state on 1967 borders proposing that “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states.”, there are out there some other proposals, maybe more utopic or maybe more realistic. But definitively more interesting as they don’t look in to the past but speculate about the future.

The French psychoanalyst André Green says that ‘You can be a citizen or you can be stateless, but it is difficult to imagine being a border’. In every conflict we are accustomed to the division of ‘either.. or…’ and we understand the border as an immaterial dividing line between two conflicting conditions which itself does not have any quality or essence. A question then is: What about denying taking side and imagining instead the border as a condition of overlapping of differences. The border then seizes to exist as an edge, an exteriority that hides on its other side what we want to avoid, and it becomes instead an interiority, it becomes a place. The border then is not just a line, but a condition that enhances differences.

With this introduction, Christiana Ioannou and Christos Papastergiou from DRAFTWORKS* architects presents their project The New Zidonians. The idea of this project is simple: the inversion of the dividing line in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an element that merely divides conditions, into a place that hosts a condition in its own right.

Egypt-Israel border. Looking north from the Eilat Mountains. Source wikipedia

The project is a fiction, based on the story of Rajiya [1]. Here, in the year 2050, she is 18 years old and she is among the few to have survived the conflict and among the even fewer to be born after the Act of Segregation*.

My name is Rajiya. My father is Muhammad, like the great Prophet, and my mother is Michal, like the legendary daughter of Saul, the ancient King of Israel. It is odd; it would rather seem odd ten years ago, to think of a Muhammad and a Michal to be married. It would once be odd as well to think of a Rajiya, a ‘hopefull’** to live in this world, a world that for the last forty years suffered war, conflict and tragedy. As most people believe, with the joys of careless life sunken into oblivion. My homeland was an island in this archipelago of conflict.

It all starts when she says: “Since when I remember myself I have only known war.”

As Nurhan Abujidi points about the Palestinian state:

It is more useful when discussing Palestine and the Palestinians to define their condition in terms of location and experience as the Palestinian space to differentiate it from the geopolitical term ‘Palestine’.

In this context, the story “The New Zidonians” continues with the life of Rajiya, and describes how she belongs to a hybrid nation called ‘New Zidonians’, that consists of mixed Palestinians and Israelis and occupy places that remained from the conflict of the two states: spaces In-between walls, valleys between opponent settlements, cracks on the landscape or empty lots around cities, taking advantage of natural and artificial elements. Ioannou and Papastergiou proposes that New Zidonians is a community formed after the fictional ‘Act of Segregation’ that supposedly took place in the fictional 2022 and meant the agreement between Israelis and Palestinians to ignore each other by defining the boundaries of their jurisdiction. During that act parts of the population of both sides remained in places ignored by both states and were marked as no-mans land. These leftovers of population had to live in these leftovers of space and in time they managed to appropriate them.

The idea of borders not as a division, but as a spatial structure of negotiation also reminds us some of the texts written by Lebbeus Woods. In Divided Cities he wrote:

Going against two centuries of growing liberalism in the West, there are many new walls –physical, legal, psychological– being hastily thrown up in the interest of “security” to separate “us” from “them”. This goes beyond realities of gated communities for the rich, and restrictive, ethnically based immigration laws, extending to attempts to seal entire national borders. To ensure things don’t get dramatically bad, it is necessary to understand not only the tragic mistakes of the past, but also the dynamics of the present in terms of the polarization of peoples and their communities.

At this point, we can return to our fiction to understand where the New Zidonians comes from. It’s name comes from the Phoenician people called Zidonians who occupied the land of Phoenicia even before the coming of Israelis. Zidonians had a peculiar relationship with Israelis and their other fellow-Phoenician peoples, like Philistines, the ancestors of Palestinians. Zidonians where odd people and their mystery is lost in history. And Rajiya adds:

For the rest of the people that lead the conflict during the Age of Confinment, we were nothing more than rats. Rats leaving in the gap that their conflict left as useless, a space empty of any interest to them, beyond its attribute as a front of their conflict. For us though, and for a lot of Israelis and Palestinians, this space meant a transmit of goods and people, communication with families and friends. In a peculiar way, that status of transition between distinct sides, it meant hope.

Rats leaving in the gap that their conflict left as useless

The idea of a green line on the border was then dug out, an idea born after the 1967 war between Israel and Jordan, as the final solution. In the time when the two states lived separately, they started to develop independently and to experience the construction of their own identities. Only that marginal coexistence in a process of building a border justified a mode of interaction, of a shared interest of the two. On those years, the green ‘line’, had being converted into a quite wide zone, a strip enclosed between two border lines, became a zone of transition, an illegal movement of people, goods and services between the two sides. A black market developed in this zone that created its own rules and spatial characteristics. The people who inhabited that peculiar kind of space, lived that peculiar kind of life in that peculiar kind of social structure were a motley crowd, consisted of those people-palestinians and israelis- that were engaged in the construction of the two side building of the border and their families.

The project shows how anyone that insisted in staying in the zone, either by choice, or because of no alternative, was trapped into it.

The zone would then be confined violently, cutting any passing flow through the zone and disregarding any people that inhabited the zone.

The story doesn’t end here. The environment of the Zone of Confinement though was so intriguing that at times they were really forgetting that this was also a war zone. The project also consists of drawings and models that accompany the narrative by providing it with images of the conditions and the places described. Sometimes spaces were totally emptied and other times they were stuffed with objects. Everything was reversible and everything was temporary.

Rajiya talks about a new state, a public space that one day would be a place for people to meet and talk, while the very next day could be flooded and become a water deposit. Sometimes a space would be left and taken over by nature, people wouldn’t mind, because they didn’t own anything. And time didn’t matter. No one could actually predict what ones needs would be the very next day. What was missing from our use of space was what the elders call programme. What she has learned through all this time is to live with every difference and their crazy transformations in time and space.

The story is itself left open. This makes the project an ongoing one and new drawings and models are added from time to time. One can say that the future of Rajiya is not yet defined as it is still left open to speculation.

[1] To read the complete story of Rajiya and her people, you can go to The New Zidonians.

* The Act of Segregation was signed in 2022 between Israel and Palestine to define a deviding border between the two sovereign states and confine the buffer zone and whoever lived within.
** Rajiya in Arabic language means hopeful


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